Race Report: Harlem Skyscraper Classic Criterium

Images by:  Ramon Thompson

Images by: Ramon Thompson

The Harlem Skyscraper Classic is my absolute favorite race atmosphere in the whole wide world. Black folks sitting on stoops, enjoying Father's day, soaking in the humid NYC summer sun, hanging out, and having a good time. 

I'm still on a wave of relaxation, a wave a plan to carry into Nationals this weekend. This day was no different. I woke up feeling fine, and although I didn't feel all the way put together, I knew that it was all going to work out. 

My friend Jason was racing in the Cat 4s, so I walked out to the course to watch him race. Luckily he lives a block away and is often lets me sleep on his couch so the commute to the race was a breeze. 

Unfortunately for Jason, he got caught up in a crash that took him out of contention. Never a fun occurrence, but he didn't go down and didn't get hurt.

By the time my race rolled around, I was a full disorganized mess, but still somehow relaxed. I ran into Justin Williams who gave me some really good tips, nothing I didn't know, but everything I needed to hear in that moment. His words helped to ground me, I felt ready. 

I kept running into old faces, each person checking in and making sure I had everything I needed. By the time we started the race, I had a full ice sock (Thanks Cesar and Natalie!), extra gels, and a pro pin job (Thanks Carol- Lynn!).

We did the normal stampede to the start line. A thing that really stood out to me, was instead of the Star Spangled Banner, the singer sang America the Beautiful. I could not stop smiling. Usually it was a seemingly small gesture, but I'd never felt so unified at the start line. In light of everything happening with the NFL, I truly appreciated it. 


Now, the race! The lap counter was set to 45. They blew the whistle, and we were off! My goals going into this crit was to stay on my toes, and always move up. "if you're not moving forward, you're moving backward." I spent the first few laps figuring out the flow of the group, the sketchy spots on the road, and the open spaces on the course that were good for moving forward. I was really stoked to find myself floating between the front and mid-pack for most of the race.

There was a nasty bump in turn 3 that would bounce your booty right off of the saddle, but luckily it wasn't enough to take anyone out. There were also some spots where the course pinched during the straight aways, but everyone did a pretty good job of making space. The thing about racing in a tight pack at 25 miles per hour is that absolutely no one actually wants to go down, so there is a sense of taking care of each other. You can be aggressive, tenacious, and safe, and as you move up in the categories, you find that the more confident fields are far better at balancing all three.

I started to do the math on the lap counter, I realized that this race was going to be longer than the typical sixty minutes. I knew my best bet was to stay tucked, stay relaxed, and stay as far front as possible. I think for the most part, I did a really good job of doing that.

At some point, two of the women made contact, all I heard was metal on metal and I knew the crash was soon to come. Somehow by the miracle of baby Black Jesus, they stayed upright. It was truly impressive. 

In my head I wanted to try to sprint for some of the primes, but I never made my way to the front to make an attempt at the right time. So, I tucked back in. I had the opportunity to take a flyer, but it didn't feel right. I only moved myself to the front because I found myself getting swallowed and spit out of the back of the group. I was happy to see the pointy in of a pro bike race for the first time in a long time. It felt really good. 

With about 3-4 laps to go, there was a crash. As it seems to go recently, I was right behind it. I'm not sure what happened exactly, but I say a girl perpendicular to the course, and that is never a good sign. I made it around, but I was not off the back of the lead pack. 

I chased back on, and was thrilled to still be in the game. I worked on trying to move forward again. The pace was too high, I couldn't get around or through. Eventually I found space and did what I could to move forward. 

I was in there, I hadn't felt this part of a bike race in a while. The pace at the front of the final lap of a pro bike race is one of the most exhilarating experiences. To be honest, I was in disbelief that I was there. I knew that all I had to do was hang on, and I was guaranteed at least to finish top 20. I wasn't as tucked into the pace-line as I should have been, but I was there, I was fighting for it, and I was really excited. The rush of cornering at over 30 mph is just as terrifying as it is fun. 


We made it around all four corners and I did my goofiest sprint to the finish line. 18th place! It would've cool to see how I could have done if I didn't burn a match chasing back on after the crash, but this was my best race all year, and I was just proud that I didn't give up. Woot!

Nationals is this weekend. I'm doing the crit, and the road race. Wish me luck!

Ayesha McGowanComment